I've been meaning to write this for a while. I viewed the documentary, "The Last of McGuiness" a few weeks ago, and it's stuck with me since then. The movie, an in-depth account of Nigel McGuinness's farewell wrestling tour in late 2011 can be tough to watch at times - not because it's bad; to the contrary, it's very good - but because it can be unflinching in depicting Nigel's pain, frustration, and, quite often, bitterness, as an end comes to a career that has not brought him all he hoped.
One of the things that kept running through my mind as I watched the movie was just how far Nigel's image of himself and his place within the business varied from my own perception of him. Prior to watching his documentary, had anyone asked me whether Nigel McGuiness had "made it" in the business, I would have said "oh sure; Nigel was one of the best." After all, he had the great run in ROH, with state of the art matches with Bryan Danielson, and, when given his shot on a national platform, had a great run with Kurt Angle. What more could a guy want? He had the respect of his peers, some legitimate "match of the year" contenders, and a run on top - with Kurt Angle, one of the best of all-time - in a national promotion. So why didn't Nigel see himself as having made it?
Oh yeah, there's that tricky issue of being able to make a living doing what you love to do. I'd heard vague rumors as to why Nigel had been let go by WWE. But guys get let go by WWE all the time; it's just one of those unfortunate facts of life. But, when see in the context of Nigel's film, it's just heartbreaking to see how close he came to achieving his dream, only to see an old bicep injury provide an unceremonial exit. But I saw him as having landed on his feet with the move to TNA, and the matches with Angle as vindication for his WWE departure. Obviously, while watching the film, I learned that Nigel didn't see things in quite the same light.
One gets the sense from watching the movie that Daniel Bryan's success has made Nigel's departure from the business particularly difficult. Not because he wishes any ill-will to his former ROH colleague, but becasue Bryan (Danielson) like McGuiness, was a guy who on paper, should not have become a star in WWE. Too small, not colorful enough, too much of a technician - not enough of a character. But yet, there is Bryan an unlikely WWE Superstar reaching heights that no one (at least not this particular wrestling enthusiast) could have predicted. After spending quite a bit of time with ROH in 2005, I thought both Danielson and McGuiness were great wrestlers, and even back then, I could see Danielson's sense of humor peeking through. But I never went to bat for either man, as far as WWE reccomendations went. I highly recommended Punk, Samoa Joe, and pitched Homicide as a guy who could brawl or wrestle, who wrestled much "bigger" than his actual size, who could connect with a different type of audience than the luchadors who were expected to appeal to the entire Hispanic viewing audience.
But Nigel always struck me as such a nice chap, seemingly happy with the cards the business had dealt him. Always seemed upbeat, never a hint of the frustration that just about consumes him in this documentary. On occasions where I've done reality TV/documentary work, I've always realized that my fate lay partially in the hands of the editors. But, in McGuiness's case, he is the editor, and how well he comes accross is largely up to him. The fact that he willingly airs footage of his post-retirement tantrum is a brave move, and one that illustrates his quest to ducument the truth, even when the truth is far from pretty. His admission that the nightly retirement tributes and speeches felt less and less authentic was another bold statement that could easily have been left on the editing room floor. Yet Nigel keeps it, and the film is better off for his lack of vanity.
I was by myself when I started watching Nigel's film. But over the course of the viewing, I was gradually joined by all my children, ages 21, 19, 12 and 9. None of them left. All of them stayed, interested, even transfixed by the events unfolding on their TV screen. All the while, I kept thinking, "I hope Nigel gets some closure out of this", hoping that the filming and editing process would allow him another look and some appreciation for everything he accomplished in a very productive career. This does seem to be the case (don't want to ruin the ending, but you might enjoy it more if you know there is a flicker of light at the end of this tunnel) and my hope as the credits rolled was that Nigel would someday be able to look back on his career and realize that being among the very best in the world, and having the matches to prove it, should provide its own comforts - even if it's not enough to fully cushion the blows taken - both physically and emotionally along the way.
I hope you'll give "The Last of McGuiness" a try. Don't rent it or borrow it. Buy it from the man himself at http://nigelwrestling.com . His heart, hopes, sadness, frustration and, ultimately, his redemption are all over this film.